Market Square — Then and Now

Just about every time we step into Market Square, it's like taking a time machine trip back to the earliest days of Pittsburgh. Maybe it's the Belgian block that paved the way for the city's first "modern" streets. Or maybe it's the fried-fish aroma wafting from the Square's oldest business Original Oyster House. And you could just say that it's the wide-open plaza of the "new" Square that hearkens to the original design of the space old-time Pittsburghers called "The Diamond" because its of its orientation to the four compass points. But the truth is, just about whatever direction you cast a glance, you're looking at a building linked to the city's past. And to show you what we mean, we put together a mini-photo album of "then and now" images of the Square not-so recent bygone days.

You don't have to be a historian to recognize the familiar name in the photo above. When that black-and-white shot was snapped nearly 50 years ago, Nicholas Coffee was freshly roasting the beans that helped perk up the morning for drowsy Downtown workers as they started another day at the office. Of course, a half-century can make a difference in any building's appearance. But if you check out the image to the right, we think you'll agree that the Square's favorite purveyor of coffee and tea looks pretty good with its Chippendale makeover in place of the building's 1940s decor.  And we're willing to bet that  Deifbaugh's Cafe served up some hearty old-time fare, but NOLA definitely adds some new spice to the Square with its bon temps roulet infused New Orleans style cuisine.

Now, if you execute a 180-degree spin, you'll be facing the corner of the-soon-to-be reopened Las Velas Mexican cantina and an under-construction new restaurant owned by the Primanti's proprietors. We love the all-glass facade of the upper floor of the building. And we have it on good word that the ground-level restaurant will provide an open-air atmosphere that will help bring the Square right into the dining area.  If you peer down Market toward Fifth Avenue, you can see the front of Prantl's and Mancini's new location, the freshly renovated blue and cream terra cotta Buhl Building and the luxe Fairmont Hotel. It's a diverse group, indeed.

But turn back the clock and that same stretch of street mixed up produce and poultry with jewelry and fancy footwear. Whether it was fresh fruit or a perfectly plucked chicken, this corner of commerce enjoyed a steady stream of potential customers looking for something to put on the dinner table. On the other hand, a different clientele might be looking to impress a certain special woman in his life with a sparkling bauble or two and maybe a new pair of shoes for himself. Coincidentally, the Nettleton Shop sits across the street today, selling some of the finest shoes around. Some things don't change all that much.

Our trip down memory lane takes a southern detour as we head to the spot where McMasters Way and Forbes Avenue meet. These days, if you look past Moe's Southwest, you'll spy Winghart's Burger and Whisky Bar, La Gondola pizzeria, Subway and Primanti's. But if you stood on that same corner in the early 1960s — a few years after the demolition of the market house that occupied what's now the Square's terrazzo plaza — the view would be a bit different, at least on the surface.

Back in 1962, a variety of business operated at street level of the Civil War era building that now houses Primanti's. Aside from a roof job and a new coat of paint, the former warehouse looks just about the same today. We can't say for sure, but we think the front of Bubble's Bar pretty much did double duty as the establishment's large-print menu for it's near-sighted patrons. And you don't have to be a surveyor to figure out that the Square's sidewalks had to be smaller back then. How else could you park cars on both sides of the street? And eagle-eyed readers will note that the upper right corner reveals a few structures that are long gone. But the PPG Place complex is welcome addition that will be around for a few years.

What makes for a truly amazing history walk is that so many of the buildings around the Square can trace their roots as far back as the 1860s. Which means that the past is always present when you're in Market Square.

1 comment:

  1. Tomorrow the National Day of Prayer will be held in Market Square(11:45-1:15), how awesome is this article!!